S-Adenosyl-L-methionine and alcoholic liver disease in animal models: implications for early intervention in human beings

Charles S Lieber
Alcohol 2002, 27 (3): 173-7
In patients with severe alcoholic liver disease (i.e., cirrhosis), a deficiency of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) develops as a result of decreased SAMe synthetase activity. Whether a sizeable SAMe depletion occurs already at earlier stages of alcoholic liver disease has been the subject of debate. To address this issue, rats were fed alcohol (or isocaloric carbohydrate) in Lieber-DeCarli liquid diets containing adequate amounts of protein, vitamins, and lipotropic factors, including methionine. Alcohol feeding resulted in hepatic steatosis (without fibrosis) and unchanged SAMe synthetase activity, yet SAMe concentration was already greatly decreased. This most likely resulted from oxidative stress associated with the metabolism of alcohol and the induction of cytochrome P4502E1 (CYP2E1), which generates free radicals. Indeed, the decrease in hepatic SAMe correlated with parameters of oxidative stress, such as increased 4-hydroxynonenal (measured by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) and diminished glutathione (GSH). Decreased GSH, occurring as a result of excessive GSH consumption caused by the oxidative stress, probably generated by enhanced utilization of SAMe, a precursor of GSH, thereby explaining the depletion of SAMe. In view of the known differences between rodents and primates in the metabolism of lipotropes, my colleagues and I have also studied the interaction between alcohol and SAMe in baboons and found again that, at early stages preceding the development of cirrhosis, there was already a significant lowering of hepatic SAMe concentration, associated with a striking oxidative stress documented by decreased levels and accelerated turnover of GSH. This was associated with increased lipid peroxidation and damage to cellular membranes, including those of the mitochondria, assessed by electron microscopy. Oral administration of SAMe resulted in its hepatic repletion with a corresponding attenuation of the ethanol-induced oxidative stress and liver injury, with significantly less GSH depletion, less increases in plasma aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels, less leakage of mitochondrial glutamic dehydrogenase into the plasma, and fewer megamitochondria. In conclusion, (1) both in rodents and in non-human primates, significant SAMe depletion occurs already at early stages of alcoholic liver disease, despite the consumption of adequate diets; (2) the decreased hepatic SAMe concentration and the associated liver lesions, including mitochondrial injury, can be corrected with SAMe supplementation; and (3) accordingly, therapeutic administration of SAMe should be the subject of a comprehensive clinical trial to assess its capacity to attenuate early stages of alcoholic liver injury in human beings.

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